Children participate in Global Handwashing Day 2010 Rally in Bhubaneswar in Eastern Indian state of Orissa
By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, October 27 - Panamani Soren, a standard nine student, in the City Girls School is tired but excited after taking part in the massive rally to mark the third Global Handwashing Day (GHD) in Bhubaneswar.
Panamani’s parents live in a remote village of Bhalkichua in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. They belong to a tribal community that is frequently affected by cholera, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections.
“I have learnt many things about hygiene and illnesses that I can teach my mother next time I visit home”, she says.
Building on the handwashing campaigns of 2008 and 2009, this year’s event in Orissa state was much larger in scale, reaching out to over 61,000 schools, including 300 residential schools for tribal children across the state, with poster and IEC material disseminated in advance of the Day.
About 6.5 million children enrolled in government primary and upper primary schools across the state washed their hands with soap at the same time before their mid-day meal on GHD, creating a record.
“About 1,000 children die of diarrhea alone every day in the country,” informs Shairose Mawji, Chief of Field, UNICEF Orissa.
These illnesses are primarily caused by lack of clean water and sanitation facilities and can be drastically reduced if handwashing with soap becomes an ingrained household practice.
The Minister for School and Mass Education for Orissa Government, Mr. Pratap Jena, speaking as Chief Guest at the Global Handwashing Day state level event cited a study that stated that 23 per cent of schools in state had made soaps available in their toilets. And less than a quarter of the students actually used the soap to wash their hands before eating in schools where soaps were provided to students.
“Celebrating the Global Handwashing Day is intended to translate what we know into practice – a simple inexpensive habit that can result in better health outcomes than any medical intervention,” said Mawji.
The Physical Education Teacher of Unit 1Girls High School, Padmalaya Dash, says that that though school students know from regular school programmes about the benefits of hand washing and the importance of a clean environment, the rallies by children are useful as they attract public attention and inform a wider cross-section of the public.
“In schools we are actively propagating the ‘clean hands, good health’ slogan,” said Suman Kumar Sahu, head teacher at the Unit 1 Boys High school, which was the venue for the annual state-level Global Handwashing event.
Mawji said that UNICEF recognizes that children are the most powerful agents of change in society and hence the programme to spread awareness about handwashing is organized around children.
The State Government Departments of School and Mass Education, Rural Development, Health & Family Welfare and ST and SC Development, UNICEF, Junior Red Cross, Water Aid and other partners joined hands to spread the message on handwashing.
The State Water & Sanitation Mission and Department of Health and Family Welfare also launched a month-long media campaign on GHD that will draw public attention to the critical importance of washing hands with soap.
Young Oriya cine actress, Archita Sahoo, joined more than thousand strong school children in their promise to not only practice hand washing at critical moments - after using the toilet and before eating - but to also spread the word among family and community.
Open defecation and cleaning hands with ash and mud are habits that still persist in rural areas, regretted N K Kayak, the aditional Secretary to the Rural Development department.
Adding to this, Deepak Roy of Water Aid said “This has to stop; a civilization according to Mahatma Gandhi is judged by the hygiene level, among other criteria”.
Mangala Mohanty, Secretary Indian Red Cross society, Orissa said its ‘Clean and Green Campaign’ was an effort in this direction.
“Progress is being made but a mountain is yet to be climbed (for most people) to access handwashing with soap and a toilet,” concluded Pratap Jena, adding his ministry will make all efforts to give impetus to this simple but life-saving practice.